Gaudium et Spes 34

Gaudium et Spes 34 raises an important consideration:

Throughout the course of the centuries, (people) have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God’s will. For (people), created to God’s image, received a mandate to subject to (themselves) the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 9:3; Wis. 9:3) a mandate to relate (themselves) and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to (humankind), the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth. (cf. Ps. 8:7 and 10)

The concern in many minds is over this subjection. In the ancient world, people were at the mercy of weather, disease, famine, and other natural disasters to a far greater extent than they are today. Triumph over the wilds of nature was seen as a victory over evil. But human beings are considerably stronger than they were in biblical times. This mandate today would seem to shift from a victory by strength to a stewardship of wisdom, as the governance of the world “with justice and holiness” seems to indicate.

This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of (others), and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization history of the divine plan. (cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 297)

I’m not forwarding the notion that everyday lay activity is “ministry,” but I think believers can see their work as participating in God’s saving plan. This would be part of the root of the Church’s philosophy of work.

This next part is important. I think it reveals a healthy approach to human development, namely that modern developments such as rationalism or technology or science are not by nature in opposition to God. The believer recognizes God’s grace in the work of the world. Through daily work, the believer is also “bound” to put extra effort into evangelization and witness. Improving the life of a person, or the lives of people as a whole are seen as a participation in God’s plan:

Thus, far from thinking that works produced by (human) talent and energy are in opposition to God’s power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater (humankind’s) power becomes, the farther … individual and community responsibility extends. Hence it is clear that (people) are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of (others), but that they are rather more stringently bound to do these very things. (cf. message to all (humankind) sent by the Fathers at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, Oct. 20, 1962: AAS 54 (1962), p. 823)

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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